British Columbia

Coroners inquest into police shooting death of mentally ill man wraps with testimony reasonable force used

Most of the final day of the inquest focused on broad questions about police training and alternatives to police being sent to deal with people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Kyaw Naing Maung was off his schizophrenia medication and suffering a psychotic episode when police shot him

The family of Kyaw Nain Maung outside of the inquest into the police-involved shooting of Kyaw Naing Maung in 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The first witness on the sixth and final day of the B.C. Coroners inquest into the police shooting death of Kyaw Naing Maung said Ridge Meadows police were "reasonable" in their use of force because the mentally ill man charged officers with a seven centimetre-long paring knife.

Ronald J. MacDonald, chief civilian director of the independent investigations office of B.C., was referencing the IIO's investigation into Maung's death, which found, in September 2020, that the case did not meet the bar for criminal negligence. 

Maung, 54, was off his schizophrenia medication and suffering a mental health crisis in August 2019 when he was shot three times in his bedroom by police trying to apprehend him under the Mental Health Act. 

Coroners inquests do not attribute legal responsibility or make legal conclusions, but a coroner's jury can make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.

Maung's siblings have been vocal insisting the police officers involved in their brother's death be charged criminally. They have also disputed some police evidence and accuse police of a coverup.

IIO investigator Garry McBride said the autopsy showed police attempts to immobilize Maung with a Taser before he was fatally shot failed because only one of the two Taser barbs made contact. 

Maung was off his schizophrenia medication and undergoing a psychotic episode when he was killed.

His sister had called 911 to ask that he be taken to hospital to restart his medication, as had happened without issue in past instances.

Kyaw Naing Maung, 54, in an undated photograph with his sister, Myaing Dinsay. He died on Aug. 11, 2019, after he was shot by police. (Submitted by Yin Yin Hla Ma)

Much of the day's testimony focused on broad questions around police training and the appropriateness of police being sent to deal with people in crisis. More than one witness said police are having to deal with an increasing number of mental-health-related calls.

Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Wendy Mehat said her detachment is in the process of creating a referral service called the "situation table" which would give police direct access to community partners who provide mental health, substance use and housing supports.

She said Ridge Meadows RCMP are also hoping to create their own Car 67 mental health outreach team, similar to the one  in Surrey which pairs a psychiatric nurse with an officer. Mehat previously oversaw Car 67 during her tenure with Surrey RCMP.

The CEO of the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association said police being automatically deployed as first responders to someone suffering a mental health crisis is a widespread problem.

"We want to be a world where police are called upon much less to mental health and substance use emergencies," said Jonny Morris. 

Morris spoke in favour of a co-response model, consisting of a social worker or peer crisis worker to de-escalate a situation and a police officer to guard for safety. He said the biggest obstacle to the co-response model was funding and resources.

The inquest jury is expected to submit recommendations at a later date.